Islamic extremism now a problem in Kosovo

Islamic extremism is now a problem in Kosovo. The New York Times did a fascinating feature on the problems in the European nation on Sunday, putting the blame not on the migrant crisis, but on Saudi Arabian money following the war.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

NYT points out Kosovo has always been a majority Muslim area, with 95% of the ethnic Albanians following the religion. The issues apparently started when the imam of one of the mosques in Kosovo reached out to his Muslim contacts for help in rebuilding over 200 mosques which were destroyed during the fight between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

When two imams in their 30s, Fadil Musliu and Fadil Sogojeva, who were studying for master’s degrees in Saudi Arabia, showed up after the war with money to organize summer religion courses, Mr. [Idriz] Bilalli agreed to help.
The imams were just two of some 200 Kosovars who took advantage of scholarships after the war to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Many, like them, returned with missionary zeal.

Soon, under Mr. Musliu’s tutelage, pupils started adopting a rigid manner of prayer, foreign to the moderate Islamic traditions of this part of Europe. Mr. Bilalli recognized the influence, and he grew concerned.
“This is Wahhabism coming into our society,” Mr. Bilalli, 52, said in a recent interview.

Wahhabism is the sect of Sunni Islam Saudi Arabia follows, and is pretty extreme in its tenets. It’s one reason why the dress code is so strict in some areas of Saudi Arabia, why segregation happens, and the ban on female driving in the country. It’s a pretty fascinating sect to look at because of how restrictive it is, and just the utter lack of freedom people have. Bilalli told NYT the Wahhabi clerics are basically trying to destroy Kosovo.

“The first thing the Wahhabis do is to take members of our congregation, who understand Islam in the traditional Kosovo way that we had for generations, and try to draw them away from this understanding,” he said. “Once they get them away from the traditional congregation, then they start bombarding them with radical thoughts and ideas.”

“The main goal of their activity is to create conflict between people,” he said. “This first creates division, and then hatred, and then it can come to what happened in Arab countries, where war starts because of these conflicting ideas.”

The more liberal Kosovo Muslims blame the drift towards the stricter forms of Islam on the Saudi Arabian cash, and one particular imam who sowed seeds of discourse throughout the region. One thing NYT notes is Saudi Arabian cash to Kosovo is starting to go down a bit, but that doesn’t mean Kosovars aren’t seeing the Saudi gravy train stop.

It is now money from Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — which each average approximately €1 million a year — that propagates the same hard-line version of Islam. The payments come from foundations or individuals, or sometimes from the Ministry of Zakat (Almsgiving) from the various governments, Kosovo’s investigators say.

But payments are often diverted through a second country to obscure their origin and destination, they said. One transfer of nearly €500,000 from a Saudi individual was frozen in 2014 since it was intended for a Kosovo teenager, according to the investigators and a State Department report.

There’s a lot of blame to go around for this, but it shouldn’t just be on the moderate imams who accepted help wherever they could get. NATO didn’t have to get involved in the civil war in the region, even though former President Bill Clinton called it a “threat to national security.” The Guardian columnist David Clark suggested the intervention was “good and necessary” because it fought off “ethnic barbarism and power politics” after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This obviously brings up the question as to whether it’s the U.S.’ job (since our military is the largest part of NATO) to do “good and necessary” military action. The same question could be raised about the Syrian Civil War President Barack Obama (and Mitt Romney) seemed so adamant on getting involved with in 2012/2013 and the move by Hillary Clinton to get involved in Libya (which is now even more of a mess).

So where do we go from here? That’s a question for people with more ties to government than I have. But the chaos in Kosovo should be a lesson for those who advocate more of an interventionist stance on foreign policy. Is it really America’s role to be world police and try to do “good and necessary” intervention, or is it better to be a good neighbor (to steal a term from Calvin Coolidge) and avoid getting into unnecessary conflicts? This is something Washington is going to have to consider as Kosovo tries to figure out what to do with Islamic extremism.